ACLU files lawsuit in Ga. school gay club case

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

ATLANTA -- The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Monday against a northern Georgia school district, saying it is unfairly preventing a gay support club from meeting at a high school.

The ACLU said it asked the federal court in Gainesville to issue a preliminary injunction requiring the White County school district to let all noncurricular student groups begin meeting again immediately.

ACLU attorney Beth Littrell said White County High School in Cleveland violated the federal Equal Access Act by not allowing the gay support club to meet on campus while allowing other clubs to do so.

In January 2005, a group of students wanted to start a gay support group called PRIDE. The school board agreed to allow the club, but school administrators later recommended eliminating all "noncurricular clubs" at White County High School.

Littrell said PRIDE has not been allowed to meet on campus this school year. But she said ACLU has evidence the school has been allowing other clubs -- including a shooting club and a dance team -- to meet on campus this school year, a violation of the federal act that requires all clubs to be treated the same.

Superintendent Paul Shaw said Monday that the district had not yet seen the lawsuit.

"I can't speak for board. We're going to just have to wait and see what happens," he said.

Shaw added that he believed the clubs allowed at the county high school were legal and tied in some way to the school's curriculum or athletics.

He said in June that the elimination of all noncurricular clubs had been in the works for months.

"Clubs have not lived up to what they are supposed to be doing. ... Plus, we want to focus on academics this coming school year," he said at the time.

Littrell said legislation proposed by state Rep. Bobby Reese, R-Sugar Hill, aimed at having students obtain permission from parents to join student clubs, would not have any effect on the lawsuit because it alleges the district violated federal and not state law.

The bill, approved unanimously in the House on Feb. 15, also would allow parents to block their children from joining clubs that they don't approve of. The measure has been opposed by gay rights advocates who fear it will discourage students from joining gay-friendly clubs.

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